Reality TV contestants need a reality check

Last updated 07:00 04/06/2014

Australian Story's focus on ex-MasterChef contestant Jules Allen highlights how distorted the 'reality' of going on talent shows really is.

Jules Allen
DISILLUSIONED: Jules Allen on Australia's MasterChef 2013.

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It's time for reality show contestants to wise up, lower their expectations and realise they are just a cheaply paid one-season cast member on a TV series.

Revelations by former MasterChef contestant Jules Allen on the ABC's Australian Story on Monday night that she was used up and spat out by the cooking show should come as no surprise.

"You think that it's just going to be this amazing, mind-blowing journey .... but it also knocks you around (and) at the end there's no one to put you back together ... the end result is its a ritual humiliation," she said.

But that's very much the reality of reality TV.

Contestants could think of themselves as being the person plucked from the crowd at a theme park to perform a skit on stage in front of hundreds of paying customers.

Admittedly, there's no pot of gold or book deal on offer at a theme park, but in essence it's the same thing.
Reality show contestants are expendable, cheap talent who entertain viewers and are replaced by a new cast the following year.

Other than the winner-take-all-prize or a recording contract, reality show identities are lowly paid and in the main receive a retainer to cover day-to-day living expenses.

If they were actors in a long running TV series, the pay scale would be massively different, but they're not. And that's one reason why the format is so appealing to the networks.

Shows like Big Brother and My Kitchen Rules are expensive to produce but the cast is relatively cheap to hire.
Even The Voice, which pays a small fortune for mentors Ricky Martin,, Kylie Minogue and Joel Madden - the real stars of the show - spend next to nothing on the singers.

No matter which show it is, Beauty And The Geek, Big Brother, The Voice, My Kitchen Rules or MasterChef, the cast provide the entertainment at a relatively low cost.

The only real financial joy is for the winner of the show or those who manage to turn their one-off reality TV experience into a career.

Some of the more successful reality show contestants are Big Brother trio Chrissie Swan, Ryan "Fitzy" Fitzgerald and Blair McDonough, and MasterChef's inaugural winner Julie Goodwin.

Others have had varying levels of success and there are hundreds of reality show contestants who have gone back to living normal lives.

Some have tried to leverage something out of their experience, even appearing in glossy men's magazines, but with limited success.

To be fair, production companies go to extreme lengths in selecting contestants, even conducting psych and background checks while also providing counselling during and after the show.

Allen's claims that MasterChef is not reality television but orchestrated television for the purposes of entertaining a viewer is on the money.

"You're an entertainer but you're a powerless entertainer and a vulnerable entertainer and you don't realise that until you're some way down the track," she said.

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Allen's observation hopefully serves as a reality check for the next batch of the 15 minutes of fame cast members.



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